First wanted to thank the STS community again for bearing with me through my first year of coverage for the site. Hopefully things will just improve for 2014.
I thought it might be appropriate, in reflecting on covering recruiting this past year, to offer some suggestions for ways I would try to improve Clemson recruiting if I were in charge. These are obviously my subjective opinions--feel free to disagree or add in other observations of your own in the comments.
1. Fix Charlotte, Shift Recruiting Territory Nick Saban says that you need to lockdown the radius of a five-hour car ride from your campus. There is enough talent within our five-hour footprint to compete for a national championship. I really believe that. It means that we must take the Charlotte area, which is essentially in our backyard, more seriously. Move Pearman to a spot where he can mine for hidden gems (I would caution though that according to this report you are statistically better served to go after Jeff Scott's big 5* fish variety). Perhaps Coach Reed can use his familiarity with the state to improve our recruiting. Tommy Thigpen, the coach we passed on in favor of Reed, is already tearing it up for Tennessee in Georgia and NC.
Deregulation in recruiting is going to force the staff to prioritize which geographic areas it wants to compete in. I would propose that with Harbison gone and Dabo never really pulling any talent from Alabama that we abandon that futile search for Alabama and Auburn scraps and put more emphasis on North Carolina and Virginia. Virginia is loaded with talent every year but this year in particular. You have the number one DE Hand, DT Brown, and S Blanding--all in close proximity. The ACC still means something in these areas and with Maryland, Virginia and Virginia Tech all down it is ripe for making serious in-roads. The SEC monster is weaker in NC and Virginia and that is where we can strategically place more of our limited resources. Spot recruit Texas only.
2. Stay Afloat Amidst Deregulation This talk of resources lends to a discussion on deregulation. I still don't know everything about the changes but from what I have learned I was encouraged by the foresight Dabo is showing when he talks about how different things are going to be. Nominally with deregulation many think that this expands freedom along with the opportunity to be upwardly mobile through working harder than opponents and letting the free market work but college football is not a free market. TV contracts and conference affiliation have already decided who has the larger slice of the pie. That is not changing much for the near future.
Deregulation means a return to the wild west. Anyone can recruit who is a part of your athletic department. Dabo is right that this means that the big spenders in college football are going to amass giant armies of in-house recruiters and recruiting departments who will be devoted to recruiting year round. AD staffs will do all of the leg work--this means constant communication and an increase in marketing and promotional materials. I mean constant texts, phone calls, social media messaging through Facebook and Twitter to your entire 7-deep family and friend circles. No dead time for communication.
I'm going to hire any number of former players, consultants, celebrities, etc. etc. I'm going to hire a personal recruiting staff for each coach on the staff who they manage in recruiting (which would include maintaining the social identity of each coach). I'm devoting a whole recruiting team to negative recruiting through social media (or a response/crisis team to monitor all the behavior of a recruits social network). Perhaps I am exaggerating but the staff must be out in-front of the changes and strategically positioned to continue to compete with the big hitting programs.
You also won't have the restrictions on only members of the coaching staff being able to break down tape. Anyone can now perform that important function. We should hire at least a couple people to do just this for the staff.
3. The Chad and DeShaun and Expanding the Board We have to understand that Chad is going to leave at some point--it is an inevitability. We are just going to have to learn how to preemptively shield ourselves from opposing recruiters using this against us. It was certainly effective against Tramel Terry, DeMarcus Robinson and even Clark. Not sure there is a great solution here. You can have more communication with Chad and recruits, promise them the moon, or Dabo can get more guys to firmly commit to Clemson rather than Morris--assuring them that the same system will remain in place (that is the current strategy with Watson and he recently cancelled his trip to Ohio State) but its not like the staff isn't already doing these things.
I think you just accept it as rolling the dice and you come up with better contingency plans. That means backing off of your commitment limits or getting more creative about how these are sold to recruits. We have arbitrary numbers at positions (for example we only like to carry 5 RB's or 15 OL at one time--we are currently at 19 so wont take a big class this year again) that we enforce to a fault at times. It is ok to use scarcity to stimulate interest and a desire to pull in early commitments, it was the USCsr. strategy that was working so well for them early on in the recruiting season, but you still need some flexibility.
It got kinda buried in the recruiting recap but Clemson let Dye and eventual Alabama commit Alvin Kamara essentially race each other to become the last RB commit for Clemson. This was silly because we later were going to land Terry as an 'athlete' that we could have sold Kamara on a couple of days after the cook-out (it goes without saying that we should keep the cook-out!). If we are only having 2 RB's sell 3-4 in the wings on being athletes who can play multiple positions. If we were still within the Napier/Dabo offense you could call this disingenuous but within the HUNH it is true. Bug Howard is another guy who we burned a bridge with this cycle that we can't afford to in the upcoming year.
But with the ambiguity surrounding Morris we need to have 1a guys and 1b guys to move on if things blow up. The same is true with Watson. We need another QB waiting in the wings if he decommits later on in the process. This would cause a serious ripple effect because he is connected to at least 6-8 other players Clemson is after who all like the idea of playing with Watson. He is a player that others gravitate towards. You can see Carvell and others beginning to try to plant the seeds of public discontent--remember it was Carvell who produced the first kink in the Nkemdiche armor with the Ryan Carter comments.
4. Grow Thicker Skin This is one for the fan base. We must collectively grow thicker skin when it comes to recruiting. In an age of social networking players can be sensitive to what random people post to them on Twitter and Facebook. It never does Clemson any good to publicly tear down players on their Twitter feeds. As slimy as Beverly Nkemdiche was during Roberts recruitment, it doesn't do Clemson any good to diss a parent before signing day--save it for after. There should be more self policing within the community. It doesn't often impact a recruit ultimately but it can be another small contributing factor. I don't think it was Clemson fans who posted racist remarks and death threats (sounds like Coot behavior if I ever heard it) to Robert but for the Alabama's and Auburn's of the world this is a regular occurrence on the recruiting trail. Watching Cyrus Kouandjio on Bama's championship line reminded me of this. He committed to Auburn on signing day but then signed with Alabama three days later.
With 5* talent committed in Watson and Cook (Safety Dylan Sumner-Gardner already decommitted out of respect for Dabo's 'all-in' policy, but still has Clemson near the top as his dream school) Clemson fans will need to weather the storms of recruiting like pros this year, it could be a bumpy ride.
5. Recruiting through Players Teams are getting more creative about their social media usage every day. Georgia must have some new blood in recruiting because I have seen them in a week send players recruiting puzzles (I question how the 'hand written' Mark Richt notes could all look so different however) that they combine to form the larger picture of them as Dawgs and do the Harlem Shuffle as a team. Clemson has done very well here and should continue to encourage things like 'We Too Deep' which helps build a Clemson brand and aura around the program. Sammy and Tajh have been great recruiters for us while they have been on campus and we need that tradition to continue after they are gone. If I am Munson I am working with and through the players to develop this social media identity and brand.
6. More Lineman Please I know we have lots of numbers at OL and DE but we must continue to bring in enough talent so that we don't have holes and gaps in the line in the future. If this means getting tough on some upper classmen, then so be it. Cut the fat or move on. I am not saying become Steve Spurrier or Alabama and run off 6-10 guys to oversign but we need to protect ourselves in the short term. We can recruit better talent at DE and shouldn't let the numbers keep us from bringing in those players at this critical position. There is talk of only bringing in 2 OL again, and only 1 DT and 1 DE. You must sign at the very least 2 DE's and 2 O-Lineman every cycle. The game is won in the trenches and we need to recruit with that attitude as well.
As you can see I have lumped a lot of points into 6 points but would love to hear your thoughts on what Clemson could do to improve recruiting.